Interview Time: A peek into the life of a World-traveler, writer, International educator, and life-long learner - A MAN OF MANY TALENTS!
J. Ivan Quezada
Educator, Writer, World Traveler, and Life-Long Learner
From: Concepcion, Chile
Date of Interview: March 15, 2020
My name is Jimmy Ivan Quezada, but I prefer to go by J. Ivan Quezada. The reason? I really don’t think that my English first name is very suitable in combination with my Spanish last name. My mother fell in love with the name Jimmy and it was fine when I was a kid, but then as an adult I adopted J. Ivan Quezada and many people just call me Ivan, which I am fine with, because my father, late older brother and even my grandfather were all named Ivan.
Anyway, I was born in Concepcion, Chile (South America), that long and narrow country. I left Chile when I was 8 years old to travel with my family and rejoin my father, as he had always been a nomad himself who had left the country many times in search of an adventure and a better future for my mother, my brother, and myself. Growing up, it was quite common to see him disappear for an entire year or two while he worked abroad in Brazil and many other countries. After rejoining him in Colombia when I was a kid, we moved to Venezuela and then back to Colombia. I guess this was when I really began to love traveling and learning about new cultures, people, and customs which were different than mine.
As the years went by, my father eventually decided to rejoin his brother and sister, who had been living in California since the mid-seventies by that point in time. So, we all moved to the United States when I was about 13 years old. My life changed completely with this move, as it meant that I had to learn a new language (English). When I first arrived in California as a young teenage boy, all I knew how to say was “Hello, my name is....” and “pencil” in English. It was quite difficult for me to grasp the new language and I was often bullied at school because I did not speak the language.
Four years later, I was able to finish High School and by then my English skills had improved quite a bit! I had no idea what to do with my life, so I went back to my native country (Chile) to connect with my roots, my people, my culture, and to spend time with my distant family; I had been away from Chile for over a decade at that point, and the homecoming experience was completely new and scary for me. Little did I know that I would spend the next 6 years in Chile, as I quickly fell in love with the place after my return!
After living in South America, working in my home country, and traveling during the summers for 6 years, l noticed how the years were passing and I figured I had better begin taking things seriously! With that thought, I moved back to the US and began taking classes at a Community College trying to discover my passion and a way to make a living.
After a couple of years, I had chosen to study journalism and went on to finish my studies in 2006 at Utah State University. After completing my degree, I moved to Texas. It was difficult to find a job there in the field of journalism, so I decided to go back to school yet again to study pedagogy and become a Spanish teacher; I wanted to teach my native language to as many people as possible. Despite that, I never gave up on my first dream – which was journalism – and for this reason I began blogging and writing about my past and current travel experiences. During the little bits of free time I would catch here and there, I would sit and write for a little bit – trying to accurately remember and recount in writing the places I had visited, the people I had met, and the food I had tried.
It was because of my love for traveling and writing that I decided a few years back to create my own website, www.travelandfood.net, a little cyber-space where I could record bits of my life with as much details as possible; a place where people could visit and get to know me a little bit, perhaps also helping them on their journeys, too.
Writing for me was, and still is, what playing sports is for an athlete: a passion that literally drags me from time to time to my computer, a notebook, or even making recordings in my phone about many things I experience each day. Perhaps my words will be the only legacy I leave behind when I am gone and that is fine with me, because it is what made me happy that is what really matters in the end.
Wow, Ivan! See, I knew there was more to your story than just “the Spanish teacher on the 4th floor at the end of the hall”, ha, ha. I can relate to your love of travel from a young age and how you got into it, as my own parents took me all over the place as a kid, and that instilled the “travel bug” in me at a very early age as well.
Yeah, Andreas, traveling became part of my world very early on, as I saw my father leave us to go work and travel around the world at a very young age. Every time he returned from his travels he would bring us a little present. That meant the world to me! And he would also always teach us new words in a foreign language. I wanted to be like him; I wanted to travel and discover new places.
On your website you say: “Traveling is the best school” – would you be up for talking a little bit more about this? What does this statement mean? How is traveling the best school?
After traveling to about 40 countries or more, I have noticed that by traveling with an open mind and having no particular preconceived expectations about anything or anyone in the places I have visited, it makes me a student of the world; therefore I am able to learn new things that I wouldn’t be able to learn at an institution. From this observation, I decided to use the phrase on my website.
What do you like about writing?
I graduated from Utah State University with a degree in journalism, a passion that evolved over the years, I guess in a big part while writing many diaries about my personal life. Writing makes me feel at ease with myself. Some people may not understand this, but each word I type, write, or record makes me feel that I am not only doing a good thing for myself – perhaps for when I am older – but I have hope that my words can serve as a testimony about my life to others, particularly to my children and future generations.
And now you are a teacher at an international school in China – can you tell us the story behind this? How did you come to find yourself here?
As I mentioned above, I left journalism because it was – and still is – a very competitive field. I guess I was much older than many other entry-level journalists, and I did not want to enter that particular professional rat race at that stage in my life. Teaching came to me as a good second degree because I had already taught English in Chile after High School and had worked as a Teacher’s Assistant while in College, really enjoying the position. After teaching in Houston, Texas, for 7 years, the stress of teaching in the public sector had also taken a toll on me. Over my time teaching in the USA I had been to the funerals of 2 of my students due to family and gang violence. In 2015, the opportunity for me to jump into the international teaching field was what saved me from perhaps changing degrees once again. I still enjoy teaching Spanish very much and, just as writing, I think it is very rewarding to see my efforts turn into reality as I have been able to communicate with many of my students in my native language. Teaching in China is great! I love the students, the effort they put into their studies, and their discipline to learn.
Do you have any interesting stories from your time in the classroom that you would care to share?
There are many! Particularly I would have to say that the best ones are when my ex-students visit me years later and speak to me in Spanish, some of them even telling me that their boyfriends/girlfriends in University are Spanish-speakers and they wished they had studied harder in my class in High School, ha, ha! I think that in and of itself is proof that I am doing a good job in the classroom. Having students return to see me is very rewarding.
Let's talk about your book. In addition to your website, I know you wrote and published a book called My name is Juan, which you can find on Amazon (linked below). How did this book come to be? Would you be up for telling us what it is about and the story behind what inspired you to write it?
That’s right! I decided to write my first book based on the true story of my uncle Juan who was killed in 2014 (in Chile) at a psychiatric hospital by another patient.
I began this work in mid-2014 – only months after his still unresolved murder – through personal research and investigation, the recollection of all the stories he had personally told me during the course of about six years, and the cooperation of various family members. The biography of Juan de Dios Rivera focuses on the most important events of his life; stories that, from childhood, fascinated me to hear from the man who at a point in my life became like my own father.
I was able to get to know my uncle Juan well for the first time in 1993, when I returned to my native country (Chile) a year after completing High School in the United States. Then, at only 18 years old, I found myself in the country in which I had been born and at the same time, a place completely unknown to me.
I had left Chile nearly a decade earlier and it was only after my return that I truly learned about and came to love my culture, my people, and my country. During the time I lived in Chile as a child, Juan had only been one of the many uncles I had on my mother’s side. My knowledge about him was limited and I only knew he was my mother’s older brother and the man who had traveled with my father through several countries in Latin America in search of a better life. The two men had embarked on adventures on two separate occasions through various countries in an effort to reach the United States by two different routes.
On their adventures, the two men had traveled through countless roads and kilometers, sharing many experiences together. My uncle Juan was looking for a place that could offer what then our own country could not. On the other hand, my father had sacrificed himself to venture into the unknown to provide a better future for his family, my mother, my younger brother and me.
I clearly remember that after each trip my father would tell me about his adventures, the people he had met, and the places he had visited – all of it – usually accompanied by a small gift he would bring back for my brother and I. With the help of a map, he would recount some of the details of his travels and the roads he had walked endless kilometers on and hitchhiked along with Juan and also by himself. At a young age, those stories opened my eyes to an unknown world. After returning from his travels, just hearing my father say a few words in a foreign language had become one of my childhood fascinations. At such a young age, all this certainly left a great impression on and ignited wild curiosity in me to one day travel as he had on multiple occasions with my uncle Juan.
When I arrived in Chile at the age of 18, I was young, but very experienced about living abroad and the connection with my uncle Juan was almost immediate. He struck me as a very calm person and I was pleased to hear him recount the many stories of his travels, just as I had enjoyed the stories from my father many years earlier.
Having lived abroad, I was able to perfectly understand and visualize what Juan would tell me about their adventures. The connection between my uncle and I had been made greatly in part because his stories had revived memories of many similar experiences and situations I had seen my parents go through and which I also had experienced living outside of my native country.
In the early 90’s, I felt lost within my own culture and needed someone to guide me and to listen to me in moments of difficulty. It was then that I needed the father figure who was absent in my life. It was then that Juan became the person to cover that emptiness.
As almost a daily routine, conversations during the many walks together from my grandmother’s home to the center of the City of Concepcion, the market, the train station, the port, and many other places served as perfect opportunities to learn from the man who seemed to have an infinite knowledge about so many things in life.
Juan, the man who walked with such great strides that I almost had to run to keep at his side, became like my own father. During the time I needed a lot of support and help in an unfamiliar place, our bond was so great that after a while he began to call me "mijo" (my son) and I called him "papi" (dad).
Six years later and after countless good moments with Juan, I left Chile in 1999. However, during the next 12 years, I had the opportunity to visit my country, and particularly him, on several occasions. Despite the short stays during my visits, I always enjoyed hearing my uncle’s stories. Even though I practically knew them by memory, they never ceased to amaze me. Juan was not only my favorite uncle, but also the man who, through his stories and support, had coached and mentored me to grow into a better person. At that time, with his advanced age and health problems, Juan de Dios Rivera Muñoz, still managed to retain clear memories of all his travels and adventures, and every time he would tell them his eyes seemed to light up with emotion.
My trip to Chile in June 2012 was the last time I saw Juan alive. It was on that occasion I realized that he had changed immensely.
Carolina, his mother and my grandmother, had died two years earlier and that had affected him deeply. In the two years that followed, when I would speak to him on the phone we would joke and laugh at all the memories of the times we had shared and at the end of each conversation he would ask when I would be visiting him again.
Over time, the opportunities to communicate with my uncle Juan became more and more limited due to my busy life with work and children. I had suddenly stopped calling him. I had been absorbed by life abroad; or better said, I had let myself get absorbed.
Every time I received news of Juan through other members of my family, I always learned he had never stopped asking for his "mijo" and wanted to know when I would call or visit him again. Opportunities to communicate with him were only a hand’s reach away and on my mind on multiple occasions, even in his last days when he was hospitalized, but I did not give myself the time to do it.
It was on the morning of April 14, 2014, when I checked my phone. I had a message of his tragic death; news that struck me in an inexplicable way. As I write these words, I still feel drowned by the sadness, as well as uneasiness and guilt for not having called him to be able to hear his voice one more time.
After the years I lived in Chile, the countless memories I have of my uncle Juan and a sense of guilt is what prompted me to write this book. After his departure, I have often wondered if I had made time to call him to let him know that I still cared, perhaps it would have changed the destiny of his life.
The loss of my uncle Juan has proven to me, once again, that no one is assured what life will bring and that the time to get closer to our loved ones is not tomorrow, but today. Juan is now gone and now only memories remain of our conversations, of the many walks through the center of my hometown, his laughter, his jokes, and the great example of being a person he always set; which despite all the difficulties he suffered throughout his life, he always proved to have a good attitude toward life.
What is the intended audience of your recent piece?
The intended audience for My name is Juan is perhaps anyone who has had a friend or family member suffer from depression, which according to current statistics is about 5% of the United States population and according to the WHO (World Health Organization) about 264 million people worldwide.
Also, the goal of my book was to highlight the current issue with my country (Chile) and many countries around the world which lack a decent and humane health care system for their populations, particularly within the realm of mental health. Countries nowadays are more focused on the economics of everything, but not so much on the wellbeing of their everyday “work horses” (their citizens). If we look at this problem in an objective way, we are all literally subjects ready to become one of the people in the above statistics at any time. If our governments do not care enough about us, then who will?
Do you have any other published works?
I have several other books in the works as of now and plan to release them in the near future. I do not try to push my work to be released at a specific time. I just write when I feel inspired to do so, and in doing so I believe my best work comes out. Writing My name is Juan took me 4 years to finish in Spanish and one more year after that to release in English.
That’s awesome, Ivan. Thank you for sharing such intimate details about the inspiration for your recent book, and, indeed, about your own personal life. We will also be excited to look for your other works when they come out – when the time is right! Now, how about we talk a little more about your blog that you mentioned earlier, travelandfood.net? This is another one of your works, and is a work that we can take a look at right now – in fact, I read your blog regularly. Would you please tell us a little bit about your blog and how you got started with blogging?
The blog came around as a hobby. Writing has always been a pastime of mine and something I enjoy, as we have been talking about. After graduating with a degree in journalism and not pursuing my dream job, I figured I could still make the best of it [my degree] by writing about the things I like best which are, as I have mentioned, traveling and eating – so the blog travelandfood.net was born!
What aspects of being a writer, educator, and webmaster present the greatest challenges to you?
I think this question can be answered with only one word and that is: TIME. There isn’t enough time when we enjoy doing so many things. The solution for that is also one-word: DISCIPLINE. You must be very disciplined when you want to succeed at different things. I am trying my best, and although sometimes it seems impossible, trying time after time is the key.
What aspects of being a writer, educator, and webmaster give you the greatest joy and are the most rewarding?
The aspect of being a writer, educator, and webmaster that gives me the highest reward is that it makes me happy. I am always happy when I write. When I teach, I like to believe that my students feel that I am happy to teach them and that I truly enjoy doing what I am doing (which I do!). When I am working on my website it gives me a feeling that I am doing something many people perhaps feel is a waste of time; but to me, sharing part of my life makes me happy. In all three I feel I am also learning. As Albert Einstein once said “When you stop learning, you start dying.” I believe this is very true. We must not always be teachers, but also be good students of as much as possible in life.
Do you have any “words of wisdom” or advice that you would be up for sharing with others looking to go down the “writer’s track” of writing a book (or books) or getting into something similar like blogging, reporting, or just generally living their life out loud and finding their own groove in this world?
I once read a paper that said something like this:
Love as much as possible.
Learn as much as possible.
Work as much as possible.
Always have something to look forward to.
I think that if all of us were to follow these three things, we would be able to change ourselves and the world a little bit at a time. By loving others, it will make us better humans. By learning as much as possible, it will create more opportunities for both ourselves and others; and by working as much as possible, it will keep our minds occupied and perhaps help us make a better living. I also believe that having something to look forward to each day of our lives can make us better people as a whole; it will give us hope for the future. I think the above combination is a good recipe for success.
You also have quite a reputation – a good reputation, I should qualify here! – in the local community you currently find yourself living and working in for selling homemade bread and second-hand items through local community garage sale and flea market type groups. Would you be willing to tell us a little more about this side-hustle of yours?
Well, whether it is a good or bad reputation, I don’t really know. I guess I have always also liked to do business and make myself useful within the communities I have found myself living in around the world. I decided to make bread because I like to cook and because I cannot find a bread anywhere locally that is up to my standards.
The selling of goods came particularly from my mother, as when I was young, I would see her sell all kinds of products, clothing, and accessories to make a living. What I usually do is that when I find a good quality product that I like for myself, I start thinking: “Hmmm, perhaps there are other people where I live who would also enjoy this and find it useful.”; so I venture into buying several more units of them and try my luck at selling them.
Ivan: the man of many talents! So, with everything you have done and continue to do, what kinds of people are you looking to network with?
As you know, Andreas, I really like to talk to almost anyone; but if I were to select among groups, perhaps I would pick those who are good listeners and open-minded. I am always pleased to talk to those who are open to discuss almost anything with an open view; those are the people I really enjoy spending time with and wish to connect with.
Thank you so much for sharing with us today, Ivan. It was a real pleasure to hear so much about your book, your other projects, and where you are coming from in life. I am sure our readers have learned a lot as well. As we wrap things up for now, how can people interested in learning more about you and your writing contact you?
Anyone can contact me via my website www.travelandfood.net and the social media accounts associated with my blog (accessible through the top right corner of the website).
I can also be contacted through the following channels:
Amazon Author’s Corner: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07L5DPVBD
Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/j-ivan-quezada-04821631/
Thank you again, Ivan. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. J. Ivan Quezada, educator, writer, world-traveler, and life-long learner! And remember, you read about it all on Biz Opp Empire – promoting ideas, inspiration, and opportunity within the realm of small business, freelance, and entrepreneurship!
Owner and Operator of Biz Opp Empire, a website by Andreas Philip Gross Enterprises
International K-12 Educator,